ESC History and Mission

Simulating the Future

The ESC staff of planners, urban designers, and architects provide innovative place-based and performance-based planning, urban design, and regulatory solutions through the design, development and application of digital tools that enhance the democratic decision-making process. We have led the development of 3D-GIS and sophisticated performance-based systems and regulations, as well as the design and development of CommunityViz®, the first GIS-based planning and design decision support software to fully integrate virtual reality with scenario design, impact analyses, and policy simulation. CommunityViz® is currently being used by communities across the country. The ESC pioneered the practice of planning in an information-rich, interactive computing environment, and continues to develop decision-support techniques and applications that enable planning and development decision-making to be informed, targeted, up-to-date, and "just in time".We have demonstrated that new applications of information technology enable planners and decision-makers to account for and evaluate change as it occurs, making for plans, guidelines, and policies that can learn and adapt over time. We use these techniques not to illustrate designs, but to communicate and evaluate a plan or design as it evolves. By integrating words, numbers, and images in one simulation environment, the design, scope, and physical impact of proposed projects can be assessed in real-time. In a technologically-mediated workshop setting, the ESC works with stakeholders to interactively plan and design alternatives, formulate and test strategies, and develop implementation techniques. This unique design approach enables open, informed and democratic decision-making, and is instrumental in helping communities reach consensus. At the ESC, solutions to complex planning and design issues are needs and application-driven rather than technologically-driven. Technology serves as a means to an end – not an end in itself. The many technological advances that the ESC has made are relevant only because they were developed in the context of real-world planning and design projects and responded to the context of planning and design in an open, democratic way. The Environmental Simulation Center was established at the new School for Social Research in 1991. Since 1997, the ESC has been an independent not-for-profit laboratory, and is the only facility of its kind in New York, and one of only several worldwide.